I had spent the last ten minutes shouting similar words of frustration at the Dutch football team each time they had kicked the ball at the goal in front of them only to miss, have it blocked or bounce it off a goal post.
“YOU’RE SO CLOSE!”
I was not shouting these words at them directly of course. It wasn’t as if I was sitting next to the coach in the stadium (even though he seemed to be shouting similar words in Dutch). In reality I was sitting next to my beloved Dutch wife, in our front room, shouting at the Dutch team via our television. It didn’t seem to be helping much, probably because they could not actually hear me. My wife seemed deeply amused by my actions nether the less.
“And I thought you were not that into football that much,” she says with a sly smirk.
It is true. Normally I have no interest in football at all. In fact, under normal circumstances I have about as much interest in football as most people have in the study of agricultural crop rotation. I just seem to get sucked into it when the world cup starts, more and more each time… Although I still was not going to admit that I have no clue what the outside rule means, especially to my wife who is the football expert of the house.
“Yeah… Well… I’m not but this game is really tense,” I offer as a shorter explanation as I sit there wearing my orange t-shirt and little Dutch flags painted on my cheeks. Maybe she has a point. Maybe I do get a little too enthusiastic for someone who claims to have no interest what so ever in football.
But I am quickly distracted once more as the Dutch team suddenly gets the ball again and starts running like crazy towards the other team’s goal as if they just stole the dinner of a particular hungry, fast moving pack of wolves.
The ball is suddenly kicked and it sails through the air towards the goal.
The members of the defending team try desperately to knock it off course. Each one of them fails. The ball continues its journey towards the goal until…
“YA… COME ON! COME ON!”
… it bounces harmlessly off a goal post and flies off in a random direction.
“You do know you’re not actually Dutch right?” My wife asks, just to make sure. I get the impression that she is no longer watching the game and is instead transfixed by my out of character football enthusiasm.
“England is already out. I have no one else to support. Don’t take this away from me.”
On my way back from having a few beers with friends I decided to pass by my old Amsterdam apartment. I’d been curious to see it again for a while.
As I cycled through the old neighbourhood and saw that much of the area had been torn down, rebuilt and renovated I suddenly felt myself getting nervous that my old apartment might no longer be there. What if it was gone?
But it was still there, looking as old and run down as ever. I was surprised by the level of nostalgia that hit me upon seeing it. I certainly had not lived there for long. Only three months in fact, back when I first arrived in the country 13 years ago.
It had not been an amazing apartment either. In fact it was badly run down and in desperate need of repair even back then but seeing it again made me feel happy as a flood of memories came back.
As I cycle back to the station I began to looked around me and suddenly noticed just how much Amsterdam had changed. There were parts that I couldn’t even remember how they used to look and some that I was happy to see had not changed at all.
Once again I was surprised by the nostalgia that this made me feel. Not because the nostalgia itself felt strange but because, in that moment, I suddenly felt more nostalgia here, in this city I had moved to when I was 21, than I sometimes feel when I return to my home country of England.
At first I wondered why I would feel this way but it did not take long for the answer to come to me.
I was 21 when I moved to Holland. I had not yet fully worked out who I was and what I was going to do with my life. I was taking my first steps of independence in a country I didn’t even know and of course I made a few mistakes and had to find my way.
I am 35 now. I have a wife and a child of my own. My goal and meaning in life are clear now.
I might have grown up in England but I ‘grew up’ in Holland. I became my own person in Holland. I think that tonight I suddenly realized, in some ways, Holland is now more my home than England. And I’m strangely ok with that.
Not because I have anything against England or that it has less of a place in my heart. It will always be my true home, I will always love it and I will always miss my parents. But Holland is the place where I really figured out who I am and grew into the person I am now.
And that is why the places along that personal journey, like that old run down apartment that I only lived in for those first three months feel so important to me.
That is why I felt so happy to see the old place still standing and looking as run down as ever.
This post was originally written sentence by sentence on Twitter. Only a few alterations and fixes have been made. At the time I was thinking about writing it down on paper first to get it just right but I knew that I had to get it committed somewhere (twitter) before I tried to put too much thought into it and analyse what I was feeling. Thanks for reading. I know it’s a big departure from my normal writing.
The story you are about to read is not for the faint hearted or weak of stomach. In fact, if you value your sanity at all you would be wise to stop reading these words before it is too late… If you are foolish enough to continue reading you have been warned…
Never before has such a story been told. To read a single word of it is to invite madness. It has given the bravest and manliest of men nightmares. It has reduced the strongest of minds to quivering wrecks and it has made things that go bump in the night cry out for their mummies! It is a story of true horror. Turn back now and read no further!
Still here? Have my warnings done nothing to scare you away? You must really want to know the horrors of my story. Very well… If that is the case, come closer and I will tell you…
The other night I accidently ordered fries with pindasaus… and it did not taste as bad as I remember.
I do not know how to live with myself any more.
“You are irritating.”
“Excuse me?” I ask, puzzled by the sudden opinion of my character.
I was very surprised by this. It was not something I was expecting… That’s not to say that people are not allowed to find me irritating. I’m sure there are people who do. However, it’s always surprising when they say such a thing to your face. Especially when it comes from your Dutch dentist who has just spent the last ten minutes cleaning your teeth in total silence. I’d heard of Dutch directness before but this was taking it to a new level.
“Your gums are irritating.” He added, somehow managing to make the earlier statement even more confusing.
It was not a question. It was more of a confused ‘should I be apologising about this’ apology attempt.
I had not been aware of anything my gums had been doing to offend people or even that gums could be offensive to some people, especially dentists. And if it was possible… well… maybe he had made the wrong career decision.
“You’ve not been brushing properly. They are irritating.”
That made a little more sense I guess… in a strange sort of way. It must be pretty irritating as a dentist when people don’t brush and floss properly. Every day must bring a new level of frustration as cavities and infections that could have been prevented slowly chip away at his soul piece by piece. At night he must go home, infuriated by the insanity of it all, not knowing how he can possibly face another day of drilling and root canals. And when his wife finally breaks the silence by asking him how his day has been he does the only thing he can do. He screams out in an anguished reply, “Why can’t these damn people take oral hygiene seriously!”
I’m suddenly snapped out of the imaginary scenario by the sound of my dentist (the real one) saying something.
“You have to look after your gums better. Otherwise they will become more irritating.”
I blink. I’m suddenly confused again…
There is something strange in the way he is using the word…
It does not actually sound like he is annoyed with me or my gums…
And then suddenly, as if from a great height, the penny drops…
Oh… He means ‘irritated’.
There are some very unique places to live in Amsterdam but possibly none as unique as the apartment I first lived in when I arrived in the country. It had all the features you might expect to find in a typical Amsterdam apartment; stairs so steep they could be reclassified as a ladder, a slightly un-trust worthy looking cylindrical gas heater that clunked loudly every time it was turned on, a general level of disrepair and very territorial mice.
It also had a few slightly unusual design additions of its own, such as a spare bedroom without a door, a window looking out onto a brick wall and a toilet that was accessed via a door in the kitchen. But it was none of these features that made it stand out. They were odd but they were nothing compared to the strangest part of the apartment… The Master Bedroom.
The Master Bedroom took up the entire top floor of the building (but somehow managed to seem smaller than the floor below). Once upon a time it had been the attic and it was still accessed by a set of stairs that simply emerged from the floor in to a corner of the room. The stairs creaked as they were climbed and made it possible to view the entire room for floor level if you stopped half way. It was from this slightly odd view point that the feature responsible for making the room (and by association; the whole apartment) so weird suddenly became obvious…
Every single surface of the master bedroom; the walls, the two halves of the angled ceiling that met at the top, the cracked wooden beams that supported them, even each individual floor board that formed the uneven floor had been painted… bright… red…
It is probably important to mention at this point that I had not seen the apartment before I moved in. It had been ‘kindly’ arranged for me by my work before I had even arrived in the country.
Everything in the room was red. The only surface that had escaped the insane colour scheme unscathed was the glass windows. The frames themselves had not been so lucky.
I don’t know if the interior designer had been colour blind, or insane, or there had simply been a heavy discount on red that day but it certainly gave the room a very striking look. A look that said, “Those of a nervous disposition may or may not wish to sleep with the lights on.”
I certainly didn’t recall the landlord saying anything about the room being evil when he handed me the keys but the questionable colour choice seemed to suggest otherwise. It was entirely possible that I had just taken up residence in the Dutch version of The Amityville Horror.
As if the room itself was not creepy enough it was also completely empty apart from the bed which had been carefully positioned in the very centre of the room like some kind of alter. There was no other furniture. No other decorations. No other distractions. It was just the bed, the endless colour red and nothing else… Unless you count the spiders.
I’m not afraid of spiders but I might have developed arachnophobia within the first few moments of standing in that room. They were everywhere. They had hung their webs in every possible spot that you could hang a web. I suddenly had visions of waking up in the middle of the night to discover that I had been cocooned to the bed by a group of arachnids who had decided they didn’t want an extra room mate.
I knew I was supposed to stay in that place for three months but I didn’t know how I would be able to hold onto my sanity for that long. So I did the only logical thing I could do. I went down stairs, found the vacuum cleaner, brought it upstairs and evicted all the spiders.